“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28).

At a local church leadership meeting one day, I was chatting and laughing with an older teen during a break when he suddenly leaned over and said, “They are afraid of me. They don’t think I have the capacity nor the experience to lead and produce an impacting result for the church.” I thought to myself, “I am too!”

Ever since that experience I have reflected on many occasions as to why I felt that way—or perhaps still feel that way even today. In my interaction with the various levels of church leadership, it is evident that the feeling is present there, as well, otherwise younger generations would be more actively engaged and represented.

Perhaps that young man was right. We do not think they have the capacity, nor the experience required, to lead. But to say it out loud would be destructive and detrimental to a young life, not to mention antichristian. Nonetheless, the fact that every individual is gifted with qualities and abilities that make him unique and capable to contribute to society and to God’s work checks off that possibility (Our High Calling, p 289.)

I am certain a young person lacks experience as much as an adult lacks knowledge or expertise in a position for which he or she was not trained or had no previous experience. But we all learn one way or another. As a matter of fact, situations of challenge give us the opportunity to see our capabilities in full display. Success in a challenging environment is proof of that.

Perhaps, the fear comes from the realization that we have built a church and a culture that is closely associated with our understanding of biblical principles. That in turn brings the possibility that the church and its culture could experience some transformation if the new generations were to exercise control and influence in leadership. But even that is to be expected. Take for example the inheritance of a company and the subtle transformation (or not so subtle) that happens under new leadership with the passage of time. One thing is sure, time always brings change.

Nevertheless, the text above brings an interesting solution to the issue of the generation gap in the church. The ideal dynamic presented here is one of team play, where both old and young work together in the fulfillment of mission. It is very evident from a simple reading of the context of Joel 2, that the Lord is promising that prior to the great day of the Lord there will be a manifestation of God’s Spirit that surpasses and overwhelms any obstacles or limitations to the knowledge of his Name. And with that outpouring there is no age limit. It means that God’s passion to reach out to all his children with a final invitation to the gospel can make use of a child as well as an elderly person. Since church is the vehicle to launch that effort, we are expected to see that vibrant interaction among old and young in leadership.

Take for instance the importance of the team spirit in mission portrayed in the text. It says, “your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” By definition, dreams are mainly related to the past. Dreams are the result of our brain’s cognitive function of classifying and filing information to be stored in our long- term memory. Its complex process may result in the inconsistency of a dream. It is very interesting that the main argument in the controversy of leadership among old and young lies as experience which by definition is related to the past. On the other hand, visions are mainly related to the future. A vision is an expected outcome based on our ability to foresee a plan and its development until it is fulfilled. Young people are characterized by being visionaries that look forward to the future with a sense of accomplishment. An example of this is the huge Apple Corporation which began with a vision in the mind of a couple of young students and turned into a major, multi-million-dollar corporation majorly impacting the world.

So, according to the scriptures, at the end time the Spirit of God will create such a team spirit that a dreamer, based on the experience of the past, and a visionary based on their perspective of the future, would be able to work in such a way that they would advance mission in preparation to the return of the Lord. How can that happen when the current reality is that Gen X’ers and Millennials are gone from our church? Gen Z’s are still in church, but if we neglect this trend, it will be too late before we realize that they are gone, too.

In response to that reality, the leadership of the NAD, and in particular the Ministerial Department, recently held a “Growing Together” summit in Texas. The purpose of this gathering was to summon inter-generational teams from as many churches as possible. One of the challenges was to embrace core commitments that can make a church a great place to grow. One of these commitments, “Keychain Leadership,” talks about entrusting young people with access and authority to influence their local church. This is one of the various strategies to consider in bridging that gap between young and old. Having the opportunity to concentrate on principles which make up the identity of our church and commit our youth to those principles in such a way that there is space for some cultural change is a constructive way of addressing the trend. Satisfying the sense of belonging of the new generations by making them part of the structure of the church is not only a strategy, but a need. The Growing Young initiative is giving food for thought and strategies to bridge the gap between generations in the church. (Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, by Kara Powell, et.al)

It only takes a leader with such a conviction to create the environment for reflection and adjustment to inclusively bring young and old together. Experience and innovation united. Dreamers and visionaries on the same team. After all, the Lord says that it will happen. You can be that leader! Are you willing?

Pastor Eduardo Jacobo is Hispanic Ministries/Family Life Ministries coordinator for the Minnesota Conference.